I’m going to admit it, up until the past few years I don’t think I’ve ever been a very good friend. It took becoming a coach for me to realize this. And it’s changed my life — no longer can I blindly go about in my relationships and be what I was: a girl trying hard to be heard and valued all the time. In every relationship and interaction with another, I was silently asking the question: “Do you like me?”
I discovered that I’ve been subconsciously seeking approval underneath everything I thought, said, or did within any relationship. Coaching has awakened me to this and though I understand what’s going on, that need to be heard and valued is still there. But I know I’m not alone with this very basic human requirement. At our core, all of us just want to love and be loved (or valued, or admired, or approved of… whatever resonates). The most evident place that this is true is in our conversations.
“If I want to be heard and valued then what I’ve got to say is important — and I need you to listen!”
If we’re all thinking this at some level it’s baffling to think that anything ever gets effectively communicated.
Is anyone ever really being heard? Are you a crappy friend too?
It took me becoming a coach in order to truly be authentic in my relationships and interactions. I didn’t set out to become a coach for this reason, but this welcome consequence has been so beneficial that I feel compelled to share exactly what has made this true. Whether it’s a casual or incredibly significant relationship, or even just an interaction with someone you’re meeting for the first time, these tips can completely transform your experience. Try them out and I promise you’ll be a much better friend and enjoy more meaning and connection in every interaction.
- Be INTERESTED, not interesting. It all starts with this one idea. Crazy simple right?! This new focus alone will result in a MASSIVE shift.
- Stop talking so much. We all want to be heard — be the gracious one and invite others to speak, draw them out, ask questions. If you notice yourself dominating the conversation, simply acknowledge it and invite others to speak: “I’ve been talking a lot. I’ll stop now and listen!” Nothing like an honest statement like that to make others feel acknowledged. Just be quiet and reframe from talking — it’s amazing how just this can help build rapport with someone.
- Be genuinely curious. Curiosity makes us sincerely interested in the person we are listening to. Take on the eyes and ears of a child and perceive what they’re saying as if you’ve never encountered it before — listen as if it were the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard. You just might learn something.
- Stop Interrupting. It’s hard to do, especially in the heat of an intense and exciting conversation. Many times someone will say something that will trigger, stimulate, or excite us and we have an overwhelming urge to butt in and share our enthusiasm or example of how we completely relate. BUT when we interrupt, overtake someone’s story, or finish someone’s sentences, what we’re saying is, “What I have to say is so important that I cannot let you finish. It is MORE important than what you have to say.” You think you’re relating, you think you’re sharing enthusiasm but the truth is, you’re not — you’re overtaking their story. Fight the urge, don’t do it.
- Be slow to criticize, argue, or disagree. Defending our point of view and attempting to get our point across keeps us from hearing what the other is trying to say. An interested person listens to others’ beliefs, points of view, and versions of the truth even if it’s hard to hear. Being slow to disagree goes a long way to allow truth, understanding, and compassion to organically unfold. No doubt it takes practice to be discerning instead of judgmental. But in service to being authentic to one’s self and others, it pays to allow room for thoughts and feelings to emerge from another before we jump at the chance to “be right” or “change another’s mind.” Observe your conversations other the next few days and see how much argument and criticism passes for conversation.
- Relinquish the need to be in control. Have you been in one of those conversations where you’re talking at the same time, while each of you gets louder and louder? That’s actually not a conversation, that’s a power struggle. Believe it or not, the people who are truly listening wield the most power by virtue of the fact that they can sit back and choose what to respond to or ignore. To be authentic and present in this type of interaction, true listening can turn the heat down. Not to mention, by allowing another to fully express themselves without the fear of being overtaken leaves them more energy and willingness to hear what you have to say when they are through.
- Avoid “should-ing” on people. I am a stickler on the use of should and all it’s variants, for SO many reasons. (See my last post on the word.) It’s easy to get caught up in the “You know what you should do… “ “You know what you ought to do…” “What you need to do is…” while in conversation. We’re trying to be helpful, we’re trying to show the other person that we’re listening and we genuinely care. We might of been there before and want to help this person out of the predicament. But DON’T. Should-ing on someone essentially says, “You don’t know how to handle this. Let me tell you how to do it cause you’re not capable of figuring it out yourself.” There is no quicker way of shutting someone down than imposing your thoughts of how things should be on them. The truth is, we’ll never know what it’s REALLY like for them. To remedy this, turn your response around and ask strategic questions to help the other come to their own, more relevant solutions, and more importantly build rapport and trust. It’s not your responsibility to solve another’s problems. But you can help someone come to their own conclusions in a very empowering way.
- So start asking strategic questions, but don’t ask “WHY.” Counterintuitive, I know. “Why?” is a great open ended question — it’s a common way to engage someone by asking about their reasoning for something. But there is a more effective way to open someone up to discuss causal events. “What led you do to this…?” “What were the factors that resulted in…?” “What was happening that led to your decision about this?” Turn the “why” into a “what” because it drops the need to defend. Think about it — someone asks you “Why?” about something you’re discussing and don’t you feel a twinge of defensiveness? “Why” can be effective, but not always. Keep someone open and thinking creatively by not unintentionally putting them on the defense.
- Break the “I” habit. This is another way of honoring that we keep quiet more often. It’s true that much of our daily talk is about ourselves. We learn this when we first start to talk and as we get older, there isn’t a very compelling reason to change. But the truth is that the use of “I” can stifle true dialogue. Get yourself out of the way and ask more questions about the other. Notice how many times you say “I” next time you’re talking with someone. It will be shocking.
- Drop the agenda and be patient. If we have thoughts about what we think is going to be said and where the conversation is going then we filter our listening. Remove the filter with curiosity and you’ll undoubtedly hear things you might not hear otherwise. I know I sometimes feel the urge for someone to “get to the point” but doing so is only going to shut them down mentally and emotionally. That’s the last thing I want someone to feel when I’m with them. Just be patient and hear them out. It’s the greatest gift you can give them.
At the end of the day, we all need to be loved and accepted. You can love and be loved authentically by attending to these tips and be truly valued. But not because you’re trying to answer that nagging, unanswerable, silent question that determines many of your thoughts and words (e.g. “Do you like me?”), but through the gift of real listening and presence you give another.
To dive more into this topic of listening, check out the book that was the inspiration for this post: A Little Book of Listening, by Jennifer Austin Leigh and Mark Brady Ph.D. An intriguing and compelling little read that I highly recommend.
Thanks for reading. If you liked it, it would mean a lot if you clicked Recommend. And, if you want more of my life hacks check out some of my other stuff at http://www.alwaysonpurpose.com/blog/